In the immortal words of The Electric Company (old-school, thank you — not the remake), “HEY YOU GUYYYYS!!!” As it is of course our mission to encourage “participatory democracy” in all forms, FrumForum wants YOU… to tell us what movie(s) are getting your votes for this Sunday’s celluloid Super Bowl. Not only are there no “awareness ribbons” or acceptance speeches at our “alternate awards”, I’ll even take a chance that our end-of-year death roll will be much more respectful and in good taste than theirs.
As befitting Year 3 of the Great Recession, many of this year’s biggest and most acclaimed films had strong and inescapable political content and context — from the overtly political (Fair Game, The King’s Speech, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps) to science-fiction metaphors for end-of-life issues and alternate realities (Hereafter, Never Let Me Go, Inception, Black Swan), to culture-war hot buttons, class warfare, and heroic biopics (The Kids Are All Right, The Fighter, 127 Hours).
As FF’s pop-culture-warrior, here are my picks for the winners and would-be’s for Oscar night. But in the spirit of one of the nominated faves, The Social Network, it’s time for you to award your “likes” and “dislikes” too. And in the equal-opportunity spirit of the late Alice Roosevelt Longworth (who was known to say, “If you can’t say anything nice about someone, then come sit by me!”), feel free to note your biggest 2010 movie disappointments, or give the esteemed Academy a thumbs-down for snubbing any of your personal faves. Above all, as in every election, may the Best Man, Woman, or Movie win!
What WILL Win: The King’s Speech
What SHOULD Win: The Social Network
It’s more than appropriate that the two hottest contenders for top prize are down to two films about the struggle to control the future. One, a drama set during mid-century England’s darkest hour as it battled the Nazis from the depths of a royal abdication scandal and the Depression. The other, an up-to-the-second drama about the Information Generation turning how we communicate with one another upside-down, and obsoleting old-fashioned cultural ”gatekeeping” from publishing to the election of President Obama.
As to the decision-maker, three words: Screen. Actors. Guild. Whenever there’s a choice between two high-quality films that are down to the wire (The Hurt Locker vs. Up in the Air, Crash vs. Brokeback Mountain, and this year’s horserace between Speech and The Social Network), almost always the choice boils down to which one has the Actors’ Academy’s support – which The King’s Speech does, royally. And from Shakespeare, Dickens, and Agatha Christie to Upstairs Downstairs and Shakespeare in Love, even the most anti-elite American’s DNA has been trained from the start to give proper English-style productions the leading edge when it comes to high culture.
But to me, The Social Network, despite its faults, is more than just a great film; it is one of THE definitive cultural X-rays of today’s society. I’ll concede that the battle for civilization against the Nazis is well-nigh impossible to beat in terms of importance. Still, anyone who thinks that The Social Network is nothing more than a bunch of navel-gazing about spoiled teeny-boppers with too much time on their hands, needs to take a good look at the current events in the Middle East to see the political, even world-changing implications of… well… the Social Network.
Who WILL Win: Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech
Who SHOULD Win: Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan
The odds of a Best Picture winner being divorced from its director is less likely in an Oscar context than a Sarah Palin or even Ralph Nader presidential victory, unless it’s for affirmative-action or a Solomonic split (a la Ang Lee in 2005). But while Black Swan isn’t the BEST picture of the year, it’s directorial technique and almost Hitchcockian manipulations of our emotions and expectations are a cinematic opera set to the automatic artistry of backstage ballet.
Who WILL Win: Colin Firth, The King’s Speech
Who SHOULD Win: Colin Firth, The King’s Speech
Colin Firth is pitch-perfect in this classicist metaphor for heroism as the reluctant King George VI, thrust against his will into history’s spotlight on the eve of World War II (he also later presided over the hottest of the Cold War and postwar rationing until his premature death in 1952). Firth’s amazing performance in last year’s long-overdue adaptation of Christopher Isherwood’s uber-controversial, landmark 1962 gay novel, A Single Man, and a versatility that can take him from battling Nazis to boogie-ing down in Mamma Mia! put him ahead of his most deserving competition (James Franco in 127 Hours and Jesse Eisenberg’s fearlessly nebbishy and unlovably lovable turn as a fictionalized Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network).
Who WILL Win: Annette Bening, The Kids are All Right
Who SHOULD Win: Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Over the years, Annette Bening has given us a museum of memorable meltdowns, from her small-screen showstopper as Jean Harris in a top-notch HBO movie, to her no-holds-barred portrayals of REALLY desperate housewives in American Beauty and Running With Scissors. And anyone who’s seen her on stage or in early performances like Valmont, The Grifters, and Dick Tracy knows her light touch recipe of humor with gravitas. More than one headline has proclaimed, “Just Give Her The Oscar, Already!” While I second that emotion on principle (ditto Julianne Moore, shamefully passed over for Magnolia, Far From Heaven, and The Hours), the fact remains that no actress of the Top Five this year had as physically punishing or orchestra-playingly emotional a performance as Natalie Portman’s unbalanced ballerina in Black Swan.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Who WILL Win: Melissa Leo, The Fighter
Who SHOULD Win: Melissa Leo, The Fighter
For those who think that Hollywood has no room for actresses who are 40-plus and look somewhat more realistic than Jennifer, Angelina, and Charlize, they need only look at Melissa Leo. Attractive though she is, she has played against glamour time and time again, from her breakout role as an overworked detective on TV’s Homicide: Life on the Streets to her stage work and her previous nomination for Frozen River. And as the tough-as-nails, Irish Catholic matriarch of The Fighter’s family, she scores a KO. Forget Michelle Bachmann and Sharron Angle — Leo is the “mama grizzly” to beat.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Who WILL Win: Christian Bale, The Fighter
Who SHOULD WIN: Geoffrey Rush, The King’s Speech
Perhaps no living screen or stage actor, aside from Daniel Day-Lewis or classic DeNiro and Pacino, has the versatility and Method-commitment to his roles as Christian Bale, who should finally capture the top prize this year. But Geoffrey Rush defines both British understatement and the essence of true friendship across an almost unfathomable backdrop of class and historical importance as royal speech therapist Lionel Logue.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Who WILL Win: Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg, The Kids are All Right
Who SHOULD Win: David Seidler, The King’s Speech
Chalk it up to affirmative-action. The long-overdue mainstreaming of the lesbian subject matter and Kids’ up-to-the-minute redefinition of “family values” will probably prove irresistible to Hollywood in the Palin/Gingrich era. (For the record, I’m in accord with the movie’s message of equal treatment.) Nonetheless, the punishing research and understated, overpowering subtleties of The King’s Speech make its “speechwriter” the on-message choice for me.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Who WILL Win: Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network
Who SHOULD Win: Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network
Sorry, “auteurist” film fans. The Social Network is first, last, and in all other regards owned by whip-smart wordsmith (and self-professed “elitist”) Aaron Sorkin. Thanks to his Broadway and film work (“You can’t handle the truth!”) and his seven-year TV signature, The West Wing, Sorkin is one of the few living screenwriters known more for writing than directing (Charlie Kaufman being about the only other one) who qualify for the Paddy Chayefsky award of being the definitive voice of their films.